It's been 15 years since Marshall Brodien spent his weekday mornings entertaining children as "Wizzo the Wizard" on WGN's "The Bozo Show" - but he's still quick to jump into character for a fan.
"Doody, doody, do!" Brodien sings, his "Wizzo" catchphrase still as silly as ever.
Now 75 and retired, Brodien doesn't have much use for the "Arabian Nights"-style costume he wore on television. But he's never far from it - or thousands of other mementos - in his Geneva basement. Brodien, who has been spellbound by magic since he was 8, over the years amassed an expansive collection of handbills, stage props, magic kits, photos and trinkets from a lifetime on stage. And he keeps nearly all of them on display. "I feel blessed," he says, flipping past a headshot of original "Bozo" star Bob Bell in a photo album. "From the age of 16, I never had a job outside of performing or doing magic."
Brodien's basement - he calls it "the museum" - seems meticulously organized, with areas dedicated to his years marketing TV Magic Cards and Svengali decks to his days hypnotizing audiences in Chicago nightclubs. Lining the walls are photos of him with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, David Copperfield and other celebrities. Brodien says he knew he wanted to be a magician in first grade, after his class had a guest presenter.
By high school, he was on staff at a local magic shop and barking for a sideshow-operator, who preferred his voice over his still-developing magic skills.
"I wanted to learn everything," he says.
Brodien was already performing regularly at Chicago's Riverview Amusement Park by the time he was a teenager, and eventually he settled at the Magic Lounge in Cicero, where he says he often performed disappearing acts and other tricks for mobsters.
After a stint in the Army performing in officers' clubs, Brodien returned to Chicago to make a name for himself as a hypnotist who put entire rooms full of people under his spell and had them carry out absurd stunts, like holding their hand over a flame or falling into a deep sleep. It wasn't until a firebombing closed a venue where Brodien was performing regularly in the early 1960s that he turned to corporate events and trade shows for income - a move that, perhaps magically, transitioned into a career on live television.
Brodien started appearing as himself on "Bozo's Circus," as it was originally called, when the show debuted in 1961. But he wouldn't become "Wizzo" until after picking up an elaborate costume from an "Arabian Nights"-style set for an American Gas Co. trade show on the "magic of gas."
"I told ('Bozo' writer) Don Sandburg about this really nice sultan's outfit when I went to do 'The Bozo Show,' " Brodien says in his 2007 biography, "The Magical Life of Marshall Brodien" by author John Moehring. "It looked like something a wizard would wear, and I asked if he would be interested in having a mystical character come on every now and then and do some bits with the clowns."
Instead, "Wizzo" became an integral part of the show, supporting Bozo with humor, magic and the mysterious "Stone of Zanzibar" pendant he wore around his neck.
"It turned into a career of 26 years - getting hit with water and pies," Brodien says, chuckling.
Though "The Bozo Show" ended in 1994, Brodien continued to stay active in the magic community through the 1990s as spokesman for TV Magic Cards, a series of trick card decks later renamed Svengali decks, and creator of several Disney magic kits.
Looking back, Brodien says he misses his hypnotist days the most.
"I really enjoyed doing it. These people really were under hypnosis. You could make them happy or sad."
Brodien moved to Geneva about 14 years ago with his wife, author Mary Doyle Brodien, whom he still levitates from time to time for guests. Otherwise, he doesn't perform much in retirement, unless it's for charity or he's hanging out with his magician buddies from one of the many trade groups to which he belongs. Brodien also likes to watch his son, magician Marshall Brodien Jr., perform at shows around the area.
But he says it's more difficult to be a performer today than it was when he was young. "There's not that much work for a performer anymore," he says. "I feel lucky."